This June 17-21 the Gold Cup Invitational Tarpon Fly Tournament will celebrate its 50th anniversary. For the past five decades, teams of anglers and guides have gathered in Islamorada, Florida, during the third week of the month to compete for the honor of having their names inscribed on the perpetual trophy known as the Gold Cup. Legends such as Ted Williams, Cecil Keith and Jimmy Albright laid the groundwork for those who have followed. The event is stronger than ever, with a full field of enthusiastic fly-anglers continuing the tradition that has become one of the premier events in the sport.
This year’s 25 anglers and guides might be the most competitive in history. Fishing for tarpon has become more than a favorite pastime for anglers and guides — it’s become a way of life.
The Gold Cup was formed to help extend the tarpon season for the guides’ business; now it marks the unofficial end of the season. Like the tarpon, fly-anglers start to show up in Islamorada in the beginning of April and for the most part leave by June. That being said, when it comes to tarpon fishing, preparation for the next year’s Gold Cup begins the Saturday after the tournament’s last day. Anglers and guides look back on what they did or did not accomplish during the mentally grueling week of fishing and begin game-planning for the coming year. For many of the Gold Cup participants, all days on the water fly-fishing are spent preparing one way or another.
Strong relationships are formed. They do not end with the two men that spend so much time together on the skiff; it’s a much deeper process. A true bond is formed with the village of Islamorada, affectionately known by some Gold Cup participants as “Poonville.” It’s hard not to embrace a holistic integration into the community, whether it’s with your competitors, Louise at the Trading Post, “Uncle Joe” who greets you at his restaurants, Matt at your local outfitter getting you the fly line you need, or your favorite bartender at the Lorelei mixing your favorite drink. The Gold Cup continues to help grow this bond between the fishermen and the people of Islamorada.
The Gold Cup may be only 25 guides and anglers that represent the saltwater fly-fishing world, but the impact that many of these fishermen continue to have is what has always been so impressive. Through the years innovators of the sport have been a huge part of this event. While they may not always have been the inventors, their tireless pursuit has helped to perfect the way you fish a spot, build the bow platform, tie the fly, design the skiff, improve the tackle or move the worm, all to help catch these fish more efficiently on a fly.
This year the tournament’s rich history will be celebrated on Friday, June 21, at the awards banquet the night of the last day of fishing. Here, past champion anglers and guides, along with others who have been important to the event through the years, will be recognized. Most importantly, the 50th Gold Cup Championship will go to the team that completes the ultimate goal of outfishing the rest of the field during the third week in June out of Islamorada.
2012 Gold Cup champions, Steve Ward (left) and Capt. Rick Murphy, receive the perpetual trophy.